Child protection conferences (CPCs) are a key stage of the child protection system. This rapid consultation aimed to explore how practice changed in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact on the children, families, and professionals involved.
Nuffield Family Justice Observatory
Research was conducted September to October. 492 professionals responded to an online survey from 108 local authorities in England and 16 in Wales. 52 professionals were interviewed. 24 parents responded to the survey and 14 were interviewed.
CPCs were mainly being conducted over video or by phone, while a minority of professionals had attended a ‘hybrid’ of in-person, phone and video. Advantages were: better attendance and improved engagement by professionals; time saved; and for some, less intimidating for parents. Disadvantages were: restricted opportunities for discussion and reflection; problems with technology; parental engagement; and concerns around confidentiality and safety. Parents were less positive: many had not had the opportunity to speak to anyone prior to the CPC, two thirds had not received professional reports prior, and only a fifth said the views of children had been written down and shared with those attending. Most parents joined by phone; all said they would have preferred a face-to-face conference. Reflections included concerns about assessments completed with limited information, and child protection plans where support services were not operating. Professionals thought CPCs were unlikely to return to face-to-face and many felt hybrid conferences would keep advantages of ‘remote’ conferences while ensuring meaningful participation by family members. Steps to increase success included prior identification of family member needs, especially technology, childcare and communication, and ensuring parents could speak to social workers and chairs prior to the conference.